We eventually made it to Kidira last Friday - 10th December and what a contrast the border crossing was - we had to hunt out all the officials & one of them even let us film him stamping the vehicle carnet! But, it all turned out to be too good to to be true...we arrived in Kayes & promptly got stopped by the Police who were not nice at all...they were very upset with the dodgy insurance we'd bought at Rosso in Senegal. After 1 1/2 hours of debate, we finally acknowledged that our Senegal insurance for the whole of West Africa was worthless & paid out another 30 pounds for a months worth of insurance for Mali - this should hopefully cover us for Burkino Faso & Ghana as well though!
Highlight of the day was a blissful tepid shower (after 4 days of dust & dirt), although the campsite was a bit of a dosshole - the Lonely Planet described it as the kind of place you turn up at late & crash - an accurate description for a change! We went to sleep with a whole mix of background sounds - wonderful music though & there was a real buzz around the town. Everywhere you go in Mali there are people cooking up omelettes - for some time we were quite depressed that there was no other food to be found (although the situation has now improved the further east we travel). They also seem to eat a lot of meat - and our staple diet for a few days has been viande & rice, with the occasional greasy frites on the side. I still can't quite believe that I've not come down with some dreadful stomach disorder, but - touch wood - I seem to be OK to date!
As we left Kayes, Neil finally had his chance to try out his ladders - it was Saturday & wash day, with dozens of people washing their clothes in the Senegal river. There were even some vehicle owners washing their cars on a stone bridge across the river, and we drove down to join them, only to get stuck coming back up the bank on the other side. We gave the locals about half an hours entertainment, and the ladders that we'd been carrying around for over a month finally got their test drive, although neither of us were that happy about the audience we gathered!
We arrived in Bamoko early on Sunday evening after the most appalling road conditions - red dust that just gets everywhere - and eventually found the Mission Catholique - another LP recommendation that was accurate - it was the best budget option, but the Spanish nun didn't look too keen to give us a room for the night - we hadn't booked & she nearly fainted when she saw the state of our bags "please don't put them on the beds" she pleaded! We made good use of the mossi nets provided & I had a very fitful night's sleep with the unexpected humidity & really missed the coolness of the roof tent (with front & back flaps open there's a cool breeze all night).
The next day we searched for an international supermarket to stock up on things like tins of tuna, couscous, tea, coffee, ete, and promptly got stopped by a policeman as we went the wrong way down a one way street. He wanted to charge us an on the spot fine of CFA 9,000 francs (about 10 quid), but we played dumb tourists & told him we were on our way to find a bank to cash our travellers cheques - we eventually ended up paying CFA 1,200 - all our loose change we cried!
No sooner had we set off, and were just turning round, when crash, we went straight into a car on our right side - pandemonium broke out - the poor man's car had caught the jack and had been gauged all along his left side. Neil was busy getting our insurance documents out and quite a crowd had gathered, when an army officer arived & told us to move on immediately as the president was coming! We felt terrible, but what else could we do? Left Bamako feeling quite frazzled - on the wrong road as well, as we couldn't risk going back & meeting more Mali policeman on the make. About 60km out of Bamako we arrived in Koulikoro and spotted a hotel with a swimming pool. Alas, the pool was empty - this being their winter & out of season - but Donut; the Assistant Manager, let us stay in the carpark and have a shower for CFA 5000 each for the night. We duly made use of the facilities & set about washing ourselves, the car and our clothes. We couldn't resist treating ourselves to steak & chips & few beers in the bar later.
Everyone drives little mopeds in Mali - men & women - we asked Donut how expensive they were to buy - about 400 pounds he said & he was saving up to buy one in the new year - all imported from china for a fraction of the price in the UK. Donut was a wonderful host - he had just completed Hotel Management at Bamoko University and was thrilled to practise his english on us.
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